Bringing TV to Kirima
Heidi Hales with Toby, Rhiannon and Jessica
Our plane arrived in Uganda late on a Monday evening. We disembarked knowing the most ambitious part of the journey was still ahead of us. Kirima Parents’ Primary School (KPPS) is situated in a town called Kanungu, in the westernmost part of the country. The area is rural and deprived—only accessible through roads which are mainly untarmacked and very bumpy!
Just over twenty years ago, in 1994, a group of parents had the vision to set up the school as a response to limited educational resources in a country still reeling from the impact of Idi Amin’s dictatorship. In order to help raise funds—both in Uganda and abroad—and to make this a sustainable long-term project, the Child to Family Community Development Organisation (CHIFCOD) was founded. The extraordinary Rev Hamlet Mbabazi was its founder—now, under his leadership, the organisation helps to run four primary schools, a secondary school and a community college. Both St Michael’s Church and St Michael’s School support KPPS through CHIFCOD’s affiliated UK charity Kirima Ltd.
So how did we get involved as a family? In September 2014 Hamlet suggested that the children at KPPS would love a proper television so they could have movie nights. For this we had to raise £1,900. My daughter, Jessica, and I are currently the St Michael’s school reps for Kirima, so we began by doing an assembly to raise awareness. Sally Higginbottom then set up the JustGiving website, many of you raised money through Screen Free time, the St Michael’s School Association held a cake stall, and Rachel Maynard counted many coppers donated from copper jars. Once this had been done, Mary Embleton, treasurer for Kirima Ltd, managed the complicated transfer of funds from the online account and combined this with direct donations. In the meantime I learnt a lot about relative costs of TVs in the UK and Uganda, and how to deal with issues including electricity surge risks and what other equipment was needed, under the tutelage of Craig Moehl.
At first, the idea that we could go to Kanungu as a family to witness the television’s unveiling seemed fanciful. Yet several months later there we were, being driven into Kampala to meet Hamlet at his office, before setting off on our adventure. On our journey from Kampala to Kanungu, our girls—Rhiannon and Jess—became somewhat self-conscious as local people stared at us as we passed in the car. At one point, our driver Nicholas stopped the car to take a phone call, and a crowd of school kids quickly formed to have a closer look. Nicholas smiled and told us it would be the talk of the school that they had seen mzunga (white) children.
As our journey continued, we had some wonderful experiences. We crossed the equator. We also went to Queen Elizabeth National Park where we saw elephants by the side of the road. There were also some physical discomforts, however, not least the point when the tarmac road disappeared completely and we were left to continue down a dirt track. As for the toilet stops, these made me very ‘anxious’!
We received a wonderfully warm welcome when we arrived. We stayed in The Mountain Gorilla Inn, which is run by the college to host visitors and make money. To our huge relief there was a flushing toilet and shower!
Visiting Kirima Parents’ Primary School
On Good Friday we visited Kirima Parents Primary School. The day school pupils had gone home but the boarders had stayed specially to welcome us. We initially felt guilty that the children had missed their holiday, but soon realised that the attraction of visitors, the TV, a picnic and games playing, on top of three meals per day and not having to go to get water, had been very persuasive!
There are 400+ children at the school, half of whom board, from nursery age to year 7. Some start late and some stay to repeat years, so the oldest child there was 15 years old. There are crammed single gender dormitories in triple-stacked bunk beds. There is one water tap area, with several taps. Water needs to be boiled in the main kitchen before drinking. Classrooms are very basic, but they do have lights and a power socket that can be used when the electricity is running; there is a generator but we didn't see it used. Class size at KPPS varies from 45 to 75. These classes are small compared to the state schools, which can have class sizes of up to 100.
The pupils welcomed us with singing and dancing to welcome visitors. Afterwards we were invited to ‘mingle’. Toby was dragged down to the field almost immediately, and set up a football game. Jessica followed as soon as she could. Rhiannon was surrounded by teenage girls who were mesmerised by her long hair. For practical reasons of health and low maintenance, girls in Ugandan schools have to keep their hair shaved until they go to college.
The TV was presented to the children on Friday afternoon. Toby and some teachers gallantly set it up, but just as we were about to watch the movie, it started to rain and the electricity went off. The rain was so loud on the corrugated iron roof that no one could be heard, so we all sat patiently in silence. The children were clearly used to this.
After lunch with Hamlet on Saturday, we revisited the school with him to unveil the TV again. This time the electricity stayed on and everyone settled down to watch Pocahontas. Tarzan soon followed, but sadly the electricity went off again so the movie was not finished.
Easter Sunday heralded a service at the new Free Methodist church. The final icebreaker was a picnic up a hill on Sunday afternoon. There was a lovely view and we had a great time. The sun, though hidden by clouds, was clearly strong in the clear air at high altitude. Rhiannon and I returned with rather red faces, which caused much amusement!
After a Monday of games and more movies, we said our goodbyes on Tuesday morning in a full school assembly. It felt quite emotional. Three days from stranger to friend; from visitor to belonging.